A group opposed to the construction of a rail line for a 90-minute bullet train between Dallas and Houston wants a rehearing after the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear its case last month.
The organization, Texans Against High-Speed Rail, is made up of property owners, business owners and elected officials who are concerned about the rail company’s possible use of eminent domain.
Texas Central, a private development company based in Houston, wants to create the high-speed Dallas-to-Houston rail, which would have one stop near College Station. It would stretch over 240 miles and replicate the Japanese Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train system. The company has said it will try to avoid using eminent domain, which allows it to buy private property for its use.
Blake Beckham, a Dallas attorney who represents Texans Against High-Speed Rail and landowners along the planned route for the bullet train, said construction would have negative consequences for many Texans, particularly thousands of landowners at risk of losing their land and the possible environmental effects of the rail.
“Nobody has any understanding of all of the ripple effects,” Beckham said.
“At least with having some land taken, get something paid for. How about the guy that’s next door to it? He’s got to see it and hear it,” he added.
In 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration published the project’s final environmental impact statement, moving the project forward. The 10,000-page document was reviewed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and had been in the works for four years, according to Texas Central.
he Texas Supreme Court’s June 18 decision not to hear the case against Texas Central seemed to clear the way for it to build the bullet train on private property. A district court in Leon County initially ruled in 2019 that the company was not a railroad, and therefore could not use eminent domain to seize property it needed to build the route.
When the state’s 13th Court of Appeals reversed the ruling last year, finding that Texas Central is a railroad company and does have eminent domain authority, the landowners said they would appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
Beckham said he believes Justice Eva Guzman’s resignation June 11 affected the court’s decision to not hear the case, as the vote to move forward was short by one. Gov. Greg Abbott will soon appoint her replacement.
“Hopefully we will have another justice and get that fourth vote where now, the court will take the case and consider it, and we’d be extremely confident that we would prevail on the merits,” Beckham said.
Texas Central said the court’s decision should move the project forward.
But Beckham said Texas Central still faces obstacles not only from landowners, but also because it has yet to file a project application with the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that has jurisdiction.
“We believe it is unequivocal that Texas Central can’t do anything,” Beckham said. “We don’t think they can condemn land. We don’t think they can begin construction until they have the ruling from the Surface Transportation Board.”
In September, former Texas Central spokeswoman Erin Ragsdale told The Dallas Morning News the company was working to secure construction permits from the agency.
While awaiting the appointment of a new justice to the Texas Supreme Court, Beckham said his law firm is working pro bono with landowners.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Houston Republican who opposes the bullet train, said he was disappointed by the Texas Supreme Court decision.
“By freeing up Texas Central to use eminent domain authority, the Court is neglecting to protect the liberties of Texas landowners whose farms, ranches and homes sit along the proposed route,” he said last month in a prepared statement.
According to public plans from Texas Central, the railway will minimize disruptions to landowners by following “existing utility corridors and public rights-of-way as much as possible.” The company says it plans to use eminent domain “only as a last resort.”
Texas Central estimates that construction would create 17,000 jobs with a total economic impact of $36 billion.